Does Australia Need A Minister For Suicide Prevention?

As Scott Morrison prepares to unveil his new-look ministry, there are calls for him to follow the UK's lead and appoint a Minister for Suicide Prevention.

Suicide is the leading cause death for Australia aged between 15 and 44. In 2017, more than 3,000 Australians took their own life, equal with 2015 for a ten-year high.

Millions upon millions in funding is pledged year-on-year at both a state and federal level, and yet the upward trend of suicide rates shows no sign of reversing.

Is it time Australia followed the UK's example and appointed a Minister for Suicide Prevention?

scott morrison headspace
Prime Minster Scott Morrison announcing funding for mental health organisation Headspace in 2018. Photo: AAP.

A dedicated minister is long-overdue, argues suicide prevention researcher Gerry Georgatos.

"We must have an impartial, independent national office of suicide prevention, that deals in the relevant research, deals in real-time data, and can measure success," he told 10 daily.

"The suicide prevention space needs the Commonwealth to own this, to contribute to it as a national priority, to invest in what works."

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Last year, UK Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Britain's first Minister for Suicide Prevention, Jackie Doyle-Price, in response to the 4,500 people who die by suicide each year.

Part of Doyle-Price's role is to tackle the stigma around suicide, but also to take on structural changes -- everything from reviewing a decades-old Mental Health Act to wrangling tech giants like Facebook and Twitter into taking responsibility for suicide prevention is part of her portfolio.

minister for suicide prevention jackie doyle-price
Jackie Doyle-Price is believed to be the world's first Minister for Suicide Prevention. Photo: Facebook.

It's too early to tell if Doyle-Price's appointment has had an impact on suicide rates in the UK, but her appointment is believed to be a world first.

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Georgatos believes an Australian counterpart would centralise the millions already spent in suicide prevention.

"All these so-called tailor-made programs don't have measurable indicators," he said.

"There's a litany of them on the landscape. Millions [in funding] there, millions here. It's money misspent, [which means] lives lost and unaddressed trauma."

His pick for Morrison's appointment would be Ken Wyatt, who as well as being the previous Minister for Indigenous Health also has an extensive background in health and education.   Wyatt would not comment on this.

Ken Wyatt
Ken Wyatt, Australia's first Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister for Aged Care, would be a prime candidate for Minister for Suicide Prevention, argues Georgatos. Photo: Getty.

However, not everyone is keen on key structural reforms taking place at a federal government level.

Doctor Sebastian Rosenberg, a senior lecturer in mental health policy the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre, told 10 daily he supports a Minister for Suicide Prevention in theory, but that it's not his top priority.

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"Looking for bureaucratic solutions to these things is a low priority," he said.

"There are some big structural issues which confront mental health, which nobody is so far [Liberal or Labor] suggesting they're willing to take on."

The Liberal party pledged more than $500 million for youth mental health and a suicide prevention plan, but Rosenberg says this does take on board the vital reforms needed.

"It's not enough to open up another Headspace," he said.

scott morrison
Prime Minster Scott Morrison during a visit to the Glenelg Surf Life Saving club in 2018 to announce funding for Headspace. Photo: AAP.

Key to suicide prevention is understanding the different types of suicide, Rosenberg says, and understanding how a person's economic, social, family and personal circumstances -- rather than just mental health issues -- cause it.

"Are you talking about the beautiful young person who is doing really well at school, who has never been to a mental health service before and has excellent relationships with her siblings and parents, and decides to kill themselves?" he said.

"Or are you talking about the 40-year-old man with schizophrenia who has just been discharged for the third time in three months from an acute ward, who has already tried to die by suicide on several occasions? Or are you talking about an Aboriginal person in a remote area suffering from accumulated trauma and crushing poverty?"

Morrison is expected to announce his ministry within the coming days.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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